Dr. Alexa Rickert


Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
Research Training Group 1876
Hegelstr. 59
55122 Mainz

Westphalian-Wilhelms-University of Münster
Institute for Egyptology und Koptology
Schlaunstr. 2
48143 Muenster

E-Mail: alexa.rickert@uni-muenster.de

Project title: "Human hair – divine hair. Studies on the body concept in Ancient Egyptian religion"

Any compilation of pictorial evidence from Ancient Egypt showing human heads gives an idea of the significance that the hair played in this culture. On the basis of the hairstyle it is often possible to draw conclusions about the time of origin of a depiction, the social status, gender, the age of the person shown or the situation in which he or she finds himself or herself. It is a peculiarity of Egyptian culture that wigs were obviously used already in the earliest phase of its history, around 3000 BC. Even at this very early stage, a culturally determined transformation of the body can be observed. One’s own hair was replaced by a handmade item – for hygienic reasons, but increasingly also for the sake of a certain form and to express a certain status. Hair as an object of research thus promises insights into human identity, self-perception, the perception of others, and the evaluation of one’s own natural condition.
Starting from the human hair, perspectives open up on various areas of life in which it is more or less significant. For example, the role of hair could be examined as characteristic of members of certain professions or those belonging to court society. Human hair has also been the subject of cosmetic, medical and magical practices and can be analysed as an age- and gender-specific marker. The area of religion, i.e. the cult of the dead and the gods, shows particular potential, which is mainly due to the fact that it is a central component of ancient Egyptian culture that radiated into many other areas of life. The fact that the gods also possessed hair makes it clear that this physical feature was a kind of interface between the human and divine world. The meaning of the hair of the gods reflected in the sources thus allows conclusions to be drawn about the importance the Egyptians attached to their own hair.
The study within the framework of the GRK is dedicated to the role and function attributed to hair in the religious contexts of Ancient Egypt, explicitly focusing on the contrast between human and divine hair. The main basis of the work are religious texts from the entire Ancient Egyptian history (especially PT, CT, the Book of the Dead, the temple texts of the Greco-Roman period as well as papyri with mythological content), but also sources that indicate certain rules for the hairstyle of the cult personnel. The project approaches the subject of hair first from a lexicographical point of view, but analyzes the written sources also in the light of pictorial representations (especially reliefs on tomb and temple walls, statues) and evidence of material culture (e.g. hair remains and wigs). These sources can be used to gather information on the cultic significance of hair over a period of almost 3000 years. The aim of the study is on the one hand to describe and interpret the role and function of a natural part of the body in the practice of ritual acts, and on the other hand to understand its transformation on a mythological-theological level.
An integral part of the work will also be an investigation of the role of hair in religious contexts within the neighbouring cultures of Egypt. This will allow an assessment of whether the body concept taken from the sources is specific to Egyptian culture, or whether it reflects aspects that can be identified for the ancient cultures of the Mediterranean region in general. In principle, the study is based on a relatively recent development in sociology and cultural studies, sometimes referred to as the "body turn" or "somatic turn", which implies a turn towards the body as the object of research. However, ritual theory and ritual research are also relevant, since they deal with physical practices that have an impact on the bodily condition of the participants.